Doors shut in hunt for cut [Rep-Am]

June 24, 2015


HARTFORD — House Democrats discussed possible spending and tax cuts in secret Tuesday amid rising demands for scaling back proposed tax increases on businesses and preserving social spending.

The top Democratic leaders declined to share any specific proposals after they emerged from a closed-door caucus at the state Capitol that spanned approximately three hours.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, would only say changes will be made to the two-year, nearly $40.3 billion budget plan that Democrats narrowly approved earlier this month.

“I don’t want to get into specifics about what we talked about in the caucus, but I can say that our members and the Democrats in general are hearing the concerns from the public that have been expressed since the budget was announced, and it is our intention to address those concerns,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey and Aresimowicz also reported Democrats continue to work with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration daily to come up with a package of last-minute revisions to the spending and tax package.

Malloy has proposed shaving nearly $224 million off the $1.5 billion in net tax increases and cutting additional spending to make up the difference. He has recommended repealing, revising or delaying six specific tax provisions.

Sharkey and Aresimowicz acknowledged divisions among House Democrats over how to respond to the complaints about the approved budget plan.

“We have folks really on one side that fully believe that what we passed is the best budget that we can get, and we have folks that would like to see some changes. We’re put in the fun position of finding that balance, and we’ll do it,” Aresimowicz said.

Meanwhile, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate questioned if the Democratic majority will be able to muster enough votes to roll back approved tax increases and cut more spending to offset the tax changes.

Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, once again urged Malloy and Democrats to scrap the adopted budget and invite Republicans into the ensuing round of budget negotiations.

Sharkey and Aresimowicz dismissed the GOP leadership’s call and speculations as more Republican bluster. Sharkey predicted that Democrats will have an easier time approving the budget changes than they had passing the original budget plan.

“I think it is going to be a very rough ride,” said Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill, R-Southbury, the longest serving Republican member of the General Assembly.

Democrats are tentatively planning to call the legislature back in special session on Monday and Tuesday to finish work on the two-year budget. While the main budget bill was approved, lawmakers still have to pass legislation to carry out its policy provisions.

O’Neill questioned if this latest group of Democratic leaders has found themselves at a loss.

With the exception of Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, he said, the House leaders and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, have never had to scramble for votes to pass a budget.

Duff has voted against Democratic budgets in the past. He had often been counted among a small group of Democratic senators who were considered as question marks on budget votes.

O’Neill said today’s Democratic leaders also cannot push a budget deal through the legislature as some of their predecessors had been able to do.

“This is a new experience for them,” he said.

Democrats not only lack the cushion they had enjoyed in past sessions because Republicans picked up more seats, but they are dealing with a Democratic governor who opposes so much of what Democrats want to do, O’Neill said.

Additionally, there are divisions among Democratic legislators over spending and tax policy, he said.

“I think it is time for people in the majority to come to grips with the facts that they probably can’t do this entirely inside the Democratic Party, and obviously once they reach out beyond the Democratic Party they’re going to have make some choices, some changes, some decisions that are going to be uncomfortable to make,” O’Neill said.

While Republican leaders pressed for seats at the negotiating table, Fasano and Klarides said Republicans would not support any new taxes.

They compared their position on taxes to Malloy’s because he proposed a budget plan in February that he claimed included no new tax increases by his definition, even though Republicans rejected the governor’s claims and how he defined a tax increase.